I found the process of buying a car in Austria to be straightforward, if not a little bureaucratic. But follow the process and you can’t really go wrong. We bought a second hand car, but I’m sure it’s not too different if you’re buying a new car. In fact it’s probably a little easier.
Do you Really Need a Car?
The first thing you need to decide is whether you really need a car or not. Salzburg is a small city with a great public transport system and very bike friendly roads and cycle paths. You don’t actually NEED a car in Salzburg to get around. In fact we’ve met several people who never bought a car or waited several months to buy one.
Secondly, you cannot buy a car in Austria until you have registered yourself (angemeldet) and have your ‘Anmeldebestaetigung’ (confirmation of registration).
Finding the Car you Want
Assuming you’re looking for a second hand car, I found gebrauchtwagen.at to be the best site with the biggest selection. It also allows you to filter so you can search for the make, model, age, price of what you want.
Buying the Car
I can honestly say that I have never come across such a lacklustre bunch of sales people in my life. Now it was pretty cold when I was looking in January, but they really didn’t seem to want a sale. I was interested in one car at Pappas, but the sales guy told me I’d have to come back a few months later. The reason? The car didn’t have winter tires and they wouldn’t change them, so I couldn’t take it for a test drive. Really?
Eventually I persuaded someone to sell me a car (and believe me I had to do the work). After that though it was pretty straight forward.
In one respect though, Austrian used car dealers are the same as everywhere else and I did of course haggle. After some back and forth we quickly agreed on a fair price a bit lower than the asking price.
Now I’ve never come across it before, but before they will get the car ready for sale, you need to sign a contract. This indicates your intent to buy the car. This was how they knew I was ‘serious’ about it. I was tempted to cancel after signing the contract – just to see what would happen. But actually finding a car was trouble enough and I didn’t want to go through it again. Once I signed the contract, it would take 3 to 4 days to have the car serviced and made ready.
When I inquired about payment, they said they would accept cash or a funds transfer. As I wasn’t too comfortable carting such a large amount of cash around with me, I opted for the transfer. I transferred the money the day before I was due to pick it up and that worked out just fine.
Insurance, Tax and Licencing
This is where it gets a little (not a lot) complicated. Now the sales guy recommended that I get an insurance broker to handle things. But I prefer to do these things myself (suspicious minds and all that), so ended up having to do it all myself. It wasn’t really that much hassle anyway.
Insurance and Tax
You first have to organise your insurance. There’s plenty of brokers around and most dealers will recommend a broker for you to use. I decided to go online and found a great website dealing with all kinds of insurance, from motor to household to travel. They also help you find the cheapest Electricity, Gas and Internet / TV provider. They’re called Durchblicker (implying they help you see through the fog) and are your typical insurance comparison website. I found them to be quite adequate for what I wanted and didn’t look too much further.
You enter the details of you car and they come back with a selection of quotes. This of course depend on the size of the engine, value of the car and your own driving history. The price will also very much depend on how many years of no-claims you have behind you. Scroll down to find out more about that below in the section on ‘Bonus / Malus Stufe‘.
Note as well that they will quote a rate including the annual car tax, which can make up a large proportion of the cost. For example, my car is 150hp and with a Bonus Stufe 0 (the maximum discount possible), and I paid about €1,450 for insurance, of which €650 was tax. The tax relates directly to the size of the engine. So neither Insurance nor Motor Tax in Austria are cheap.
Once you’ve decided which insurer you are going with, Durchblicker allows you to fill out the forms, send off the application and provides you with a printed document (by email) you can take to the dealer to prove that you are covered. That part of the process is very simple.
Vorschadenbesichtigung (Examination for Existing Damage)
But don’t expect the insurer to trust you that all is well with the car. Once you take ownership (and I promise we are getting there), you need to bring the car to an independent body (ÖAMTC – Austrian equivalent of the AA in Ireland and the UK or the AAA in the US or Australia). They will then check the car to make sure there’s no prior damage and issue a certificate directly to your insurer.
You have 7 days to get this done. If you don’t do it in 7 days then your excess (the amount you pay for yourself in the event of a claim) is increased until you have the car examined. When I had mine checked, the mechanic found a microscopic dent and reported that to the insurer. All it means is that I can’t use this insurance to have that microscopic dent repaired. Good that no-one else in the world can see it so.
‘Bonus / Malus Stufe’
At this point you need to be careful about your ‘Bonus / Malus Stufe’ – or the level of discount you accrue as a result of past history. By default, they allocate level 9, where no discount is awarded. This is awarded if you have no insurance history or are an entry level driver. For each year of claim’s free driving / insurance, you move up a level until you reach ‘Stufe 0/1’. While the level of discount can vary from insurer to insurer, in general you can expect to receive a 10% discount for each two levels, so by the time you reach level 0 or 1, you receive approx 50% discount on your premium.
However, the insurer will require proof of your no-claims history and will increase the premium if you do not provide it. You will need to have written proof from your previous insurer on headed paper, so make sure you bring that with you to Austria before you arrive.
Note that it can work against you as well and if you provide a certificate showing that you have had claims, your premium will be increased. So probably best not to do that.
So you’ve paid for your car and have your proof of insurance. Now you need to head on down to your friendly car dealer and (assuming he’s there) pick up the papers to the car. Not the car – the papers for the car.
You now need to head over to the nearest ‘Zulassungstelle’ (Registration Office) to have the car registered and your licence plates issued. Luckily enough, most larger dealers will have a Zulassungsstelle on-site. If your dealer doesn’t have one, then the nice people at Durchblicker have provided a list of them in Salzburg which you can find here.
The person handling your ‘Zulassung’ will make sure that your insurance details are in order, check that you are a resident and check the details of the car. Then, in exchange for about €120 they will provide you with licence plates. Doh – and of course they don’t accept cards, so if you don’t have the cash on you then head to the nearest ATM.
Congratulations. You can now drive the car (but don’t drive on an Autobahn until you’ve read the section below on the Vignette).
In every other country I’ve ever lived in, the car dealer does all of this work for you – but not in Austria. In fairness, I think the insurance broker would do that if you used one, but if you do it yourself then you’re on your own.
Austria doesn’t have tolls as such on the motorways (Autobahn). Instead they have an annual charge for driving on the Autobahns and in return for payment you receive a ‘Vignette’ which is a sticker you must place on the windscreen. Driving on the Autobahn without a Vignette will result in a fine of €120 which is more than the €86.40 charged for 2017. Be careful how you apply the sticker. If you stick it in the wrong place and the cameras can’t read it, they will fine you. You can see how to apply it correctly at the link below.
Vignette’s are issued from January 1st and run until January 31st the following year. They cost €86.40 for a car and €34.40 for a motorbike. Your dealer should be able to sell you a Vignette and if not then they are available at most Garages / Petrol Stations.
More information can be found here.
So, here’s a brief checklist of what you need to buy a car.
- Are you a resident and do you have your Anmeldebestaetigung?
- Find the car you want and check out the price of insurance on Durchblicker. Believe me, it is more expensive than you think and you may want to rethink.
- Make sure you have your ‘NoClaims’ certificate from your previous insurer.
- Convince the dealer to sell you the car and sign the ‘Contract’ (drum roll).
- Pay the dealer with either a big wad of cash – or transfer the money.
- Organise your insurance and make sure you get the certificate of insurance to say that you are insured.
- Pick up the papers from the car dealer.
- Bring the papers to the Zulassungsstelle and get your licence plates (in return for another wad of cash – no cards accepted).
- Have dealer put plates on car (at least they did that for me).
- Drive away.
- Within 7 days make sure you have your car inspected at the ÖAMTC. If you don’t, your excess will increase until you do. They will send you reminders though.
As always, please let me know if you have a question, if I’ve missed anything here or if you find anything which is inaccurate.